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Hillary Clinton on Between Two Ferns

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2016

When you see how well it works for Donald Trump, do you ever think to yourself, “Oh, maybe I should be more racist”?

I loved this. If Galifianakis can’t get her to break, what hope does Trump have in the debates? Maybe this is part of her debate prep?

We Work Remotely

A nonfiction literary map of the United States

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2016

From Nylon, Kristin Iversen compiled her list of the best pieces of nonfiction — books, essays, memoirs — from every state in the US (plus DC and NYC). Here’s a sampling:

Alaska: Coming into the Country by John McPhee.

Connecticut: The Story of How, and Why, Martha Stewart Became the Queen of Living Well by Margaret Talbot.

Florida: The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. (Love this choice!)

Illinois: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Strong runner-up here is the amazing The Warmth of Other Suns (which I reviewed here).

Vermont: Where the Roads Have No Name by Geoff Manaugh.

Uncanny car impressions

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2016

Daniel Jovanov does fantastic impressions of cars. In the video above, he imitates them so well that a trio of actual race car drivers are able to pick out exactly which ones he’s doing. I think he’s gotten better since his appearance on Australia’s Got Talent several years ago:

“The most powerful artwork I have ever seen”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2016

Niaux Cave Drawing

New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz has presumably been to most of the finest museums in the world, seen the works of the great masters, and generally spent a lifetime looking at great art. But he encountered what he calls “the most powerful artwork I have ever seen” in a French cave with drawings from about 13,000 years ago.

The idea that perspective was invented in Florence in 1414 collapsed in an instant. Here, larger mammals are in front of smaller ones who trail behind; animals at the back of packs are smaller than those in front. There’s also what’s called reverse perspective, the sort of system used in China, where closer things are rendered smaller than farther things. Elsewhere, an ibex is depicted from behind and over the shoulder — an incredibly sophisticated perspective. One horse is seen from a highly accomplished three-quarters view. Imagery seemed adjusted for curvatures and protrusions of the walls in the same ways that Renaissance frescoes adjust for distortions, distance, and odd viewing angles. I saw a bison with one horn curving up, the other curving down — either from battle or birth. Whatever the cause, this was something that had been seen and intentionally rendered.

Just penciled this in for my next trip to France, whenever that is.

Nazi rallies in Madison Square Garden in the 1930s

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2016

Nazi NYC

In the 1930s, almost a decade before the nation’s young men would be shipped overseas to combat the foul stench of Hitler wafting across Europe, official and unofficial rallies for the Nazi party were held in Madison Square Garden.

Shortly after Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor of Germany in January 1933, the Nazis consolidated control over the country. Looking to cultivate power beyond the borders of Germany, Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess charged German-American immigrant Heinz Spanknobel with forming a strong Nazi organization in the United States.

Combining two small extant groups, Spanknobel formed Friends of New Germany in July 1933. Counting both German nationals and Americans of German descent among its membership, the Friends loudly advocated for the Nazi cause, storming the offices of New York’s largest German-language paper, countering Jewish boycotts of German businesses and holding swastika-strewn rallies in black-and-white uniforms.

A later group, which only disbanded at the end of 1941, were prominently pro-American and featured iconography of George Washington as “the first Fascist”. (I would have gone for “the Founding Fascist”…catchier.)

Should we use CRISPR to engineer mosquitoes incapable of transmitting malaria?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2016

Thousands of people die every day from malaria, a disease that is transmitted to humans solely through mosquitoes. With CRISPR, scientists can easily genetically engineer mosquitoes incapable of transmitting malaria and using a technique called gene drive, they can force that genetic change into the native mosquito population. So, should we do it?

Monty Python’s Argument Sketch performed by two vintage speech synthesizers

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2016

In a sketch from Monty Python called Argument Clinic, a character played by Michael Palin goes to a facility and pays to have an argument with John Cleese. That argument was recreated for this video using a pair of old school speech synthesizers. Palin’s part is played by the DECTalk Express (aka the voice of Stephen Hawking) and Cleese’s part is played by the Intex Talker. As you can probably hear, the Talker predates the DECTalk by a few years and is more difficult to understand. (via @303)

Passengers

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2016

You had me at Chris Pratt and J. Law in space. I hope this doesn’t suck.

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are two passengers onboard a spaceship transporting them to a new life on another planet. The trip takes a deadly turn when their hibernation pods mysteriously wake them 90 years before they reach their destination.

On the shifting role of racism in American slavery

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2016

In a recent episode of his EconTalk podcast, host Russ Roberts talks with Michael Munger about a paper Munger co-authored about how white Southern attitudes toward slavery shifted from around 1815 to 1835. The episode is interesting throughout,1 but I want to highlight this attitude shift Munger writes about in the paper, something I was previously unaware of.

Sifting through documents from the era between the American Revolution and the Civil War, Munger and his co-author Jeffrey Grynaviski found that Southern whites believed, in the first decade or two of the 19th century, that owning slaves was evil but necessary. There was this system in place and it was bad but we’re gonna go with it because, whaddya gonna do? But in a period of about 20 years, due to a variety of factors, mostly economic, the justification for slavery shifted primarily to a racist one: that black people were inferior and needed to be cared for by whites. Southern whites came to believe, like really believe, that they were doing their slaves a favor by enslaving them and that the slaves were better off than they would be in Africa.

The way we defined it in this paper was that racism became a substitute justification for slavery. And the reason was, the original justification for slavery, which was the Roman one of wasn’t good enough. And so Southerners cast about and found basically an alternative, which was the Greek justification for slavery. And let me just say very briefly what those two are. The one justification for slavery, and it was pretty common in Rome, was that if you lost a battle and were captured, then you might either be killed or kept as a slave. And there is a mutually beneficial exchange, if you will, in the sense that you’ve already lost. So, me saying, ‘I tell you what: I won’t kill you if you will agree to act as my slave for the rest of your life. And I may free you; I may not; but that’s up to me.’ And you say, ‘Killed/be a slave: I’m going to go with the slave thing.’ But, it meant that some slaves were very excellent. And in Roman society some slaves occupied very high positions, positions of respect. It’s just that they made this promise. It was an economic institution. And that was the way that slavery had existed in Africa: if you lost a battle, then you would be captured by the other side. It was almost like indentured servitude: you could work it off.

Well, that didn’t work in the American South because they wanted to maintain slaves, to be able to identify slaves and to have a justification that would allow them to enslave the children — which the old Roman justification would never have allowed. You are not going to be a slave if you are born to a slave, because you didn’t lose in battle: you would have been free.

So, the Southerners needed a different way, so they were looking for the Aristotelian notion of slavery, which is that slaves are people who are either morally inferior or lack the judgment to make independent choices. They are like children or like horses. That means that you actually have a positive-good justification for enslaving them: if I have a thoroughbred horse or a fancy dog, it would be cruel of me to set it loose to let it run around, because it’s not capable of taking care of itself. I have obligations to take care of it. My ownership actually gives me obligations. And what’s interesting and what this paper is about is how Southerners worked that out between about 1815 and 1835, and started to understand the implications for how they had to change the economic institutions of slavery to match this new ideology that they were creating.

Yet another example of how powerful economic self-interest is in shifting moral beliefs.

  1. Although it was uncomfortable at times listening to two privileged pro-market white guys talking about slavery, particularly in the moments where they discuss matters from the slaves’ perspectives. But in fairness, they do a good job in admitting their privilege and the awareness that their economic beliefs may not square with things like human rights and justice forms the basis of a fascinating conversation.

The Monty Hall Problem, explained

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2016

The Monty Hall Problem is one of those things that demonstrates just how powerful a pull common sense has on the human reasoning process. The problem itself is easily stated: there are three doors and behind one of them there is a prize and behind the other two, nothing. You choose a door in hopes of finding the prize and then one of the other two doors is opened to reveal nothing. You are offered the opportunity to switch your guess to the other door. Do you take it?

Common sense tells you that switching wouldn’t make any difference. There are two remaining doors, the prize is randomly behind one of them, why would switching yield any benefit? But as the video explains and this simulation shows, counterintuition prevails: you should switch every time.

America was introduced to the difficulty of the problem by Marilyn vos Savant in her column for Parade magazine in 1990.1 In a follow-up explanation of the question, vos Savant offered a quite simple “proof” of the always switch method (from Wikipedia). Let’s assume you pick door #1, here are the possible outcomes:

Door 1 Door 2 Door 3 Result if you stay Result if you switch
Car Goat Goat Wins car Wins goat
Goat Car Goat Wins goat Wins car
Goat Goat Car Wins goat Wins car

As you can see, staying yields success 33% of the time while if you switch, you win 2 times out of three (67%), a result verified by a properly written simulator. In his Straight Dope column, Cecil Adams explained it like so (after he had gotten it wrong in the first place):

A friend of mine did suggest another way of thinking about the problem that may help clarify things. Suppose we have the three doors again, one concealing the prize. You pick door #1. Now you’re offered this choice: open door #1, or open door #2 and door #3. In the latter case you keep the prize if it’s behind either door. You’d rather have a two-in-three shot at the prize than one-in-three, wouldn’t you? If you think about it, the original problem offers you basically the same choice. Monty is saying in effect: you can keep your one door or you can have the other two doors, one of which (a non-prize door) I’ll open for you.

See also the case of the plane and the conveyor belt (sorry not sorry, I couldn’t resist).

  1. I was a religious reader of Parade and remember this column and the resulting furor very clearly. Re: the furor, it’s so interesting to note in hindsight (being 16 and clueless at the time) how much of the response was men who clearly were trying to put the smackdown on a prominent, intelligent woman and they just got totally owned.

Storm photography by Mitch Dobrowner

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2016

Dobrowner Storm

Dobrowner Storm

Dobrowner Storm

Mitch Dobrowner takes wonderfully dramatic black & white photos of clouds and storms from across the plains of the central United States. Dobrowner, who lives in California, became “addicted” to photography as a teen after discovering Ansel Adams and Minor White but then gave it up to spend energy on his career and family. A few years ago, he picked his old obsession back up and these storm photos are the result. (via colossal)

How to make McDonald’s McRib at home

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2016

Homemade McRib

That, my friends, is a photo of Kenji López-Alt’s homemade McRib sandwich. The McDonald’s version is beloved but has been on and off the menu with maddening irregularity, so Kenji spent weeks/months creating a McRib recipe for the home cook.

The problem is that, while the McRib might be inspired by real barbecue, it’s ultimately a lie. Despite its corrugated appearance, it has little to do with actual ribs. (McDonald’s doesn’t even indicate that the product contains actual rib meat.) It’s not smoked, as one would expect of barbecue ribs. Indeed, it’s not even grilled — it’s cooked on a griddle. We can do better.

My goal? Take everything we love about the McRib sandwich and turn it up to 11, by starting from scratch with a few high-quality ingredients and a lot of good technique (including honest-to-goodness smoking). I wanted to maximize flavor and texture, unlocking the sandwich’s full potential and allowing it to evolve, Pokémon-style, into something so much better.

One of my favorite pieces of food writing from the past few years is Willy Staley’s piece on the economics of the McRib.

And for recipes for more of your favorite fast food at home, see the homemade Shack Burger, homemade McDonald’s fries, homemade Egg McMuffin, homemade Big Mac, and homemade Chick-Fil-A.

MoMA puts 1000s of historical exhibition photos online

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2016

MoMA Exhibition History

MoMA Exhibition History

MoMA Exhibition History

MoMA Exhibition History

MoMA Exhibition History

The Museum of Modern Art has started the process of putting online a massive trove of photographs of what the museum’s exhibitions looked like, extending back to their earliest big exhibition in 1929 of works by Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, and van Gogh. The NY Times has the story.

The digital archive project will include almost 33,000 exhibition installation photographs, most never previously available online, along with the pages of 800 out-of-print catalogs and more than 1,000 exhibition checklists, documents related to more than 3,500 exhibitions from 1929 through 1989.

Shown above are some notable works of art pictured among the first times they were displayed at the museum…the top one is from that first show in 1929. I happily spent an hour browsing through these exhibitions1 and I haven’t been gripped with this powerful of a desire to travel through time in quite some time. To be able to see that first exhibition…what a thing that would be. In part, I love going to museums for this very reason: standing in the very spot where the artist stood in making their drawing or painting is a very cheap form of time travel.

  1. Suggested technique: search for an artist or artwork you particularly like and sort the results by “opening date, chronological” to see the first time that art or artist was displayed in the museum.

Tracking Homer Simpson’s jobs and salary

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2016

Vox recently took a look at every single job that Homer has ever had on The Simpsons in an attempt to see where his average salary falls on the economic spectrum in America.

Over the show’s 596-episode run, Homer has had at least 191 jobs. They’ve ranged from executive positions to service jobs, and have dotted the entire economic spectrum, from ultra-rich to the poverty line.

In the list below, we’ve compiled the real-life salaries for 100 of these jobs. Seasonal jobs (like “mall Santa”), and jobs that were virtually impossible to find salary data for (“beer smuggler”) were excluded, as were any repeats (he was an Army private twice, for instance). His full-time gig as a safety inspector is highlighted in yellow, for reference.

He gets a lot of flack, but Homer is actually the most interesting person in America by a wide margin, even though he’s not well compensated for it.

See also Homer Economicus: The Simpsons and Economics.

The genius of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan battle scene

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2016

For a recent episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak takes a look at how Steven Spielberg constructed the intense opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. His decision to film the Omaha Beach landing from the perspective of a battlefield cameraman — something he cribbed from actual WWII battle footage and John Ford’s The Battle of Midway, where scenes in which on-set explosions made the film skip were kept in the finished movie — made it one of the best depictions of war ever created. I need to watch this movie again soon.

An incredible detail Puschak notes: the shot-length in that scene was surprisingly long, particularly for a battle scene. In fact, the shot length in that scene was more than double that of the entirety of 300, any Transformers movie, and Inception.